During the last three of my 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, I was honored to serve the commander of the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), based at Kelley Barracks, just outside of Stuttgart, Germany. I gained an appreciation for the challenges faced by the staff, and in particular, an appreciation of the requirements it takes to execute U.S. military operations, exercises and partnership-building on the African continent.
Before he retired in February 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sent a letter to Congress indicating that he would not recommend relocating the command’s headquarters to U.S. soil, citing operational concerns about access to the continent and assigned forces, as outweighing any fiscal savings or efficiency gains from such a move. During a visit to Charleston in July of this year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel indicated he would review this decision and allow Charleston to present its proposal.
I strongly believe it is time to move USAFRICOM to Charleston. Relocating USAFRICOM headquarters to Charleston, the leading candidate in a Department of Defense 2008 study, would save the DoD $800 million over the next five years, a positive step toward the $900 billion in cuts directed over the next ten years.
USAFRICOM is primarily a planning staff responsible for providing strategic military guidance and policy to operational level commanders, who in turn, issue orders to tactical commanders for mission execution. USAFRICOM’s Headquarters location is irrelevant to the task of providing strategic guidance.
Today’s mission is enabled by cyber-connectivity, and it succeeds because those who serve on the front lines are well led, trained and equipped. Proximity to operations, exercises and security cooperation events matters little when the staff’s job is to write policy and provide overarching guidance. The success of USAFRICOM’s mission is more at risk due to sequestration, fiscal uncertainty and changing priorities.
USAFRICOM is a rank-heavy organization with few assigned forces. It is staffed with 1,600 employees with over half of those civilians. The command has four separate service components and a special operations component all based in various locations throughout Europe, (652 billets in all). Most communication between service components and headquarters staff was conducted using Internet-based collaborative tools such as video teleconferences.
These vehicles for communication negated the need for close proximity to the headquarters. Sixty percent of the staff travel was to the U.S. to collaborate with Washington, D.C., agencies, not Africa.
A stateside template for operating combatant command headquarters far from their region of responsibility has already been proven effective by peers in Miami and Tampa, Fla.
I recommend that Secretary Hagel reverse his predecessors’ decision and move the headquarters to Charleston, which is estimated by his own staff to save $138 million annually. He should rescind the $40 million in planned upgrades to Kelley Barracks as being unnecessary. Further investment beyond the $140 million already spent on renovation to Kelley Barracks only fuels the German economy.
The Government Accountability Office released a report on Sept. 9 that states the DoD may be missing an opportunity to accomplish USAFRICOM headquarters’ mission in the U.S. successfully at a significantly lower cost. It is time to end the World War II legacy of basing our forces in high-cost European countries when their mission is elsewhere and resources are tight.
Charleston has military infrastructure that can receive USAFRICOM immediately and return the DoD’s investment in less than a year. A Charleston-based command will bring 4,300 jobs to U.S. soil and infuse our economy with an estimated $555 million per year.
Charleston is an all-American military community with rich, historical ties to Africa. Charleston is also an incubator of innovation with business and academic relationships with many African nations.
A U.S. Africa Command in Charleston will succeed at every level. I know, because I was there.
Col. Joseph W. Mancy, USAF (retired), is a member of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Africa Command Task Force.
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